ERA advocate arrested for exposing breast released after three nights in jail

Capitol Police covered Michelle Renay Sutherland with jackets before leading her away and charging her with a single count of indecent exposure Monday during a protest in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A woman arrested Monday after exposing her breast in front of the Capitol will be released Thursday following three nights in jail, according to her defense attorney.

Richmond District Court Judge Lawrence Cann III had ordered Michelle Sutherland, a 45-year-old resident of of Brooklyn, N.Y., held without bond until her March 21 trial on a misdemeanor count of indecent exposure. She had been protesting in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and was dressed as Virtus, who is depicted on the state seal with a breast exposed as she stand triumphantly over Tyranny.

Cann reversed his decision during a hearing Thursday after Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring and Sutherland’s lawyer, David Baugh, submitted a joint request that she be released on personal recognizance.

Baugh said during the Thursday hearing, which was not listed in online court dockets, that Cann took the unusual step of explaining his reasoning.

“I’ve never seen it before in my life,” said Baugh, a longtime defense attorney who is representing her on a pro-bono basis. “The judge explained that when she had her arraignment, it’s by television, the only thing he had in front of him was a warrant and the warrant said that she made an obscene display of her body.

“There’s not a backstory, no context, nothing referencing free speech. … It looks to him like she’s a flasher and because she doesn’t have any ties to Virginia, the judge is not going to grant bond.

“He didn’t apologize, but he did explain it. … I was really kind of surprised.”

Baugh said Sutherland “is being released as we speak.”

She was released with no bond but will owe the court $1,500 if she fails to appear for her court date, Baugh said.

From The Bulletin, the Mercury’s blog, where we post quick hits on the news of the day, odds and ends and commentary.